Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2007   by J.D. Ney, Assistant Editor, in Birmingham Alabama

Michelin’s New Approach

Advanced tread designs give Michelin's new tires a tighter grip in both wet and rough terrain

When the invite to the Michelin launch event, to be held at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. hit the desk here at SSGM, it was not difficult to convince a young journalist to answer the call. While travel in itself can be a great time, this particular event, in the eyes of a racing enthusiast was a golden opportunity to not only learn a little more about the tire business, but also get to drive at one of the continent’s most heralded new facilities. The day of driving began initially with a full product presentation, and while there was certainly the requisite amount of chomping at the bit, the presenters were able to offer some intriguing technical insight into the various tires that would be put through their paces.

In all the journalists present were there to test two new offerings in several designed test scenarios that would pit Michelin’s products against a competitor and the harsh elements of the Birmingham back-country.

Primacy MXV4- performance for everyone

What is billed as a touring tire for everyone, Michelin certainly has taken up the gauntlet with this particular offering. With luxury sedans from the likes of BMW and Benz now being more performance car than Sunday cruiser, the touring market has become rather complex. Trying to combine elements that were previously considered mutual-exclusive, like performance, ride comfort and durability certainly can’t be an easy process.

“Until now, touring tire consumers have had to choose between comfort, handling and extended wear,” says Maria Mandato, product manager for Michelin. “The Primacy MXV4 tire sets a new standard in the touring tire market by offering a 100,000-kilometre warranty without compromising driving performance in all types of conditions especially in wet braking and handling situations.”

It was clear that the invited guests were about to put that bold statement to the test.

The first live action test that we were allowed to put the Michelin and its equivalent competitor through, was a stop from 55 mph, on a wet surface. Slipping and sliding was obviously the order of the day, and that was certainly the case for both sets of tires. Despite some highly variant results for all of the journalists present, the Michelin tire was able to halt its bulky ’07 Toyota significantly quicker than could the competitor’s offering. According to the company, a special tread pattern design for their product that includes “active sipes,” the Primacy MXV4 tire improves all season handling especially in the rain. These sipes are a special tread block design that alternately lock together and act as biting edges to grip the road providing drivers with excellent braking in wet road conditions. Under the break pedal, one could certainly feel the difference as the tire fought for grip every foot of the way.

After the stop test, drivers were led to an autocross track set-up with similarly wet surfaces to demonstrate the tire’s ability to handle sharp cornering under those circumstances. In most instances the Michelin stood up to the test, proving its performance bona fides. Further, success appeared to be achieved in terms of the company’s three pronged attack, as the tire provided performance and comfort, while its 100,000 km warranty certainly speaks to its longevity.

In terms of driving characteristics, most interesting from the competitor’s side was their tire’s propensity to provide extremely solid grip upon the initial exaggerated turn-in, only to relinquish it half way through the turn. While it was debated among the participants whether or not the Primacy provided as solid initial grip (I felt it did not) what the Primacy did show, was the ability to cling to what grip it provided for the duration of the turn, as opposed to giving out at the critical half-way mark.

Leaving aside the question of whether a tire is going to fail in its grip part way through, wouldn’t you rather the grip be poor from the start, so as to not give the driver the impression of sustainable grip? As said, the point was heavily debated, and in the end, the vast majority of those present, after continually sliding backwards through the exit of a corner (or would-be off ramp) came to the same conclusion. The Michelin’s grip, although slightly less rigid upon initiation, certainly provided a more progressive and consistent grip throughout the turn, resulting in the ability to more accurately predict the skid point, and ultimately keep the car on said “off ramp.”

LTX AT2- Taking Michelin Off-Road

As the absolute definition of a city boy, chances to do some serious off-road driving are few and far between. As such, when the 4X4 F150s shod with the new Michelin LTX AT2 rolled into view, all present knew we were in for a treat. The trail selected for the test was well over the requirements of most Canadian cottage gowers, and featured everything from a water crossing to without a doubt the steepest hill I have ever had the experience of driving down. Thanks to newly designed biting edges, the tire gave little signs of giving out, even under the most extreme inclines and a side hill that had the F150’s rollover alarm voicing its concern. Beyond providing the off-road traction desired by light truck and SUV owners, the Michelin LTX A/T2 tire fits aesthetically with these vehicles through visual indicators that call-out its gripping capabilities including a new sidewall referential, aggressive outer block tread, and four-row, proportional tread design. Given the niche nature of this particular segment, Michelin certainly did not ignore the important visual demands of the consumer with the overall look of the new LTX, a factor that can certainly persuade customers in the segment. Suffice to say that its not enough that the tire is able to do it, it has to look like it can too. The third factor that needs consideration in the SUV / Truck market is drivability and comfort, something that cannot be overlooked. Given that most consumers in this segment rarely require the extreme off-road capabilities, the tire needs to perform as well on the asphalt as it does in the bush. Brining all of these elements together is what makes the overall product so impressive.

“Drivers who use their light trucks and SUVs for both work and play will especially enjoy the LTX A/T2 tire,” says Barbara Weber, product manager with Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. “This tire exceeds the performance of other products on the market by providing both a comfortable and quiet ride on-the-road while also delivering increased durability and off-road capabilities.”

Final Thoughts

Thoroughly impressed, most who attended the event left with not only a few stories to tell (including the final bonus of Porsche 911s out on the track) but also a deeper appreciation for the painstaking design efforts that go into those four palms of rubber keeping you on the road. Given the realities of what can happen when those give way, as was demonstrated by just about every wannabe Hamilton in attendance, the Michelin point was certainly well made. For shop owners, these are the kinds of selling features that can certainly help push a client out of a discount brand and onto a more profitable one. Given that it is their overall safety that is at stake, it’s worth the effort for both of you.

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